Hangul (The Korean writing system)
The Korean writung system (known commonly in Korea as Hangul) is a simple and modern writing system created by Sejong the Great around 1443. Sejong the Great was a forward thinking king and believed that all Koreans and not just the educated elites should be able to read and write. He believed that the imported writen language from China (called hanja) to be far too complex for the average person to learn quickly. He believed that hanja being a foriegn script and did not acurately reflect all of the nuances of the Korean language. This fantastic quote form King Sejong’s proclamation on the new writing system sums up his desire and reasons for creating Hangul.
“Being of foreign origin, Chinese characters are incapable of capturing uniquely Korean meanings. Therefore, many common people have no way to express their thoughts and feelings. Out of my sympathy for their difficulties, I have created a set of 28 letters. The letters are very easy to learn, and it is my fervent hope that they improve the quality of life of all people.”
Hangul faced opposition by the literate elite, such as Choe Manri and other Confucian scholars in the 1440s, who believed hanja to be the only legitimate writing system, and perhaps saw it as a threat to their status. However, it entered popular culture as Sejong had intended, being used especially by women and writers of popular fiction.
Today Hangul uses 24 of the original 28 characters and is written in blocks. Each block consists of a sound of a syllable and each block can hold a maximum of four characters, this makes Hangul a very efficient writing system. Hangul is praised for its easy learning curve and most foriegners can learn Hangul in a matter of only a few hours of study. Due to Hangul’s simplicity it is no surprise that in Korea illiteracy is almost unheard of.